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A poor aim creates problems

Why make things worse?

After many years spent observing the actions of government, we are not surprised when officials shoot themselves in the foot. But, there remain occasions when we ask ourselves, “Why would you do that?”

Such it is with an incident last week involving the Town of Pagosa Springs.

The background of the incident has taken center stage for several weeks: the impending arrival of a Wal-Mart in town and proposals made by a town commission to develop amenities on Reservoir Hill.

The Wal-Mart issue has spawned a brace of misconceptions and complaints about the legal role of government, and about the relation of municipal government to other communities. But, reaction against the arrival of the corporate giant is genuine and sincere, and many opponents believe there have been “back-room deals,” actions taking place out of the public eye.

The Reservoir Hill situation has caused a number of residents to question the effect of select businesses on government decisions, the role of commissions, the erosion of the power and effectiveness of the Town Council, and whether it is advisable for council members to participate on commissions.

In short, many people have concerns about the quality of town government, and many are convinced there is a lack of transparency in its operation.

No time for a shot in the foot.

The town put an online poll on its website last week concerning proposed development on Reservoir Hill.

One day the poll is up and people are participating, the next day the poll is gone.

Questioned about the disappearance of the online poll, the town manager noted difficulties with “the machine” that counts responses and with the character of the options offered.

Fair enough. If it doesn’t work, you remove the poll and retool it.

When asked about the results — numbers and kinds of answers — received during the time the poll was available to the public, the manager’s first response was that 30 to 40 people responded, with a 50/50 breakdown for and against development on the hill. A second response came soon after: 50-60 responses, with 58 percent in favor of development.

When SUN staff requested the poll results, the manager deemed the poll a project in the works, and the door slammed. He refused to produce the results and demanded a formal open records request before he would relinquish them.

The first problem: a project in the works is not released to the public and the public does not respond to it. The poll, even if flawed, drew response from residents of the area. Nothing in the Colorado Open Records law allows for withholding this kind of information

The second problem: What are those people who already suspect you of concealing things going to think? That you withheld the poll because more people voted than you stated? That the vote went against the proposals from your task force?

What other conspiratorial theory do you spawn by refusing to let the light of day shine on your operations?

This is just one more, and in this case extremely silly, example of town government supplying doubters with ammunition. With the exception of certain personnel matters and matters concerning potential litigation and negotiation, everything that takes place in the government process should see the light of day.

To refuse a request concerning information, even in a case as seemingly trivial as this, is to indicate a disdain for the public and to ignore the fact that anything and everything on which a single dollar of taxpayer money is spent should be revealed to the public in a forthright manner.

Do otherwise, and you create your problem.

Aim for the sky, not your foot. Karl Isberg

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